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WHY SUCCESSION PLANS FAIL: 4 Key Moves to Overcome Shortfalls

Aug 23, 2022

Over the past 3 years, we have witnessed some phenomenal growth stories, as well as stories of heart-breaking sudden loss of critical business leaders. Both have highlighted the importance of, and the shortfalls, in their current succession plans.

In a recent State of Succession Survey by CHRO South Africa, 99% of business leaders believed succession to be important but only 19% had confidence in the structured plan they have in place. Our own experience working with CEOs echoes this – many are concerned about handing over the reins.

For some, their succession plans have been a tick box exercise, for others they are hampered by an under-representation of diversity at senior levels, and for many, they have not invested in the accelerated development and exposure required to ready identified successors to step up; particularly in the context of scaling-up the business or where different skills are required to be effective in the future (the current brain drain is an added challenge).

    In our experience, the following moves are essential to address gaps in current succession plans to ensure they are more robust going forward:

    1. Focus on future business scenarios

    Unpack and plan for these by asking some tough questions;

      • Is our business model still relevant and will it continue to be so?
      • What may change in how we operate and how the market may affect this?
      • What capabilities are required now and into the future?
      • What leadership style and competencies will get us to our desired future?

    2. Really get to know your talent and potential successors

    Succession planning needs to take into consideration the ‘whole person’; this means understanding talent in terms of;

      • Where they have been i.e. what do they bring with them?
      • What this means i.e. the impact they have had?
      • And where they are at present i.e. their purpose, aspiration, mobility and work preferences?
      • Past performance is not necessarily a predictor of success. Do they have the ability to take on more complexity, the vision to navigate into a new future, and the EQ to influence and take others with them?

    3. Think beyond individual role succession to build effective executive teams

    For success, senior executives need to surround themselves with a diverse team of leaders, who are aligned, able to influence and collaborate. Forward thinking organisations don’t just look at individual role succession but consider the blend of capability they are building, ensuring succession plans build effective teams for the future – considering respective strengths, dynamics, and diversity beyond the technical requirement of an individual role.

    4. Don’t just identify successors, accelerate them

    Often little is actually done to accelerate the development of high potential individuals beyond assigning them a coach or mentor. While these are powerful interventions, accelerated development also needs to focus on building critical experiences, cross business exposure, and whole person development – immerse leaders in a rich diversity of experiences relevant to business issues, or environments they will be operating in; using real life managerial problem-solving projects while also building their emotional, and relational intelligence.

    Ultimately, the goal is to create a seamless handover when people leave or retire, so as to not affect morale, slow down delivery, negatively impact team dynamics, or destabilise the desired business direction. It’s about formulating a pipeline of future leaders that can step into critical roles when needed.

    Find out how we can help you to transition your succession planning into a workable strategy that delivers continued business success today and into the future.